Judith Snow (1949-2015) and the Laser Eagles Art Guild aka Artists Without Barriers


Artists Without Barriers / The 519 Church Street Community Centre)
519 Church Street Toronto, ON, M4Y 29C

Judith A. Snow (1949-2016) artist, author, international speaker on building communities of inclusion; she was also a founder of the Laser Eagles Art Guild, “a fully-inclusive space for art expression” in Toronto. Judith was born in Oshawa, Ontario in 1949, and diagnosed at seven months of age with spinal muscular atrophy causing quadriplegia. She outlived all medical expectations and in 1976, graduated with an MA in Clinical Psychology from Toronto’s York University. In 1979 when Judith’s health took a turn for the worse she was faced with a residential care existence. Judith refused this fate and took refuge with friends. Together they created the “Joshua Committee,” a circle of friends dedicated to enabling Judith Snow to live independently. Through political action and strong advocacy, the group was able to obtain an Ontario Order-in-Council, providing a small but determined circle of care for Judith to live on her own and to manifest her dreams. Her life long work was to help others to do the same. http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/judith-snow-advocate-for-inclusion-was-a-visionary/article25213213/

In 2009, playwright Michael Rubenfeld was confronted by a question Judith proposed through one of her assistants, “Can you find Judith a lover?” His response to his own discomfort this question provoked in him led to the creation of a play called, The Book of Judith. that addressed the prejudices associated with being “so called” disabled. Judith not only assisted him in its creation, she also appeared in the acclaimed production, which was staged as in a revival tent format, complete with a chorus that was set outside the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto.

It wasn't until Judith was in her fifties that she was able to actualize her desire to paint. Judith authored an inspirational book outlining her personal journey of becoming an artist and a social innovator out of necessity. Her book Who’s Drawing the Lines (2011) describes some of the 27 paintings—23 by Snow and four by Felicia Galati, a fellow artist in the Laser Eagles Art Guild, that made up the art exhibit held at the Royal Ontario Museum. https://lasereagles.wordpress.com/

Judith’s contribution to society has been extensive, including the development of an innovative art facilitation approach to painting that uses laser beams to direct the painting. “The name Laser Eagles is derived from the creative process, in which the artist uses a laser pointer to communicate what should be painted on the canvas to a 'tracker' or 'helper'. Trackers are volunteers: students, friends, family or artists who understand the artists and their abilities.” http://www.artsetobicoke.com/Art/Gallery-Exhibitions/The-Laser-Eagles-Show.aspx. Weekly sessions were held Among Friends, a division of LAMP (Lakeshore Area Multiservice Project) in Etobicoke, Ontario. The Laser Eagles has been renamed to Artists Without Barriers

The Vision for Laser Eagles:
“All individuals have contributions to make – acts that nurture the individual and the community. Yet, people with limited use of their bodies, those considered to be physically or mentally disabled by some, often lack the resources, opportunities and relationships necessary to fully express themselves to make their contributions to society. Laser Eagles Art Guild is an organization that offers individuals the opportunity for self expression through art. The Laser Eagles will bring people together to passionately reveal their strong spirit and foster their ability to contribute their creativity and insight to the world.” https://lasereagles.wordpress.com/

Over the years, Judith influenced many individuals and communities to think differently and to embrace people with differing abilities with enthusiasm, curiosity and respect. Judith focused her lifetime achievement on spreading the seeds of inclusive communities that welcomes everyone as an artist with gifts the world needs. Judith was a strong advocate for promoting inclusion within education and had a dream of one day living in an inclusive society. She was committed to making art an outlet that will bring peace and hope to all. https://lasereagles.wordpress.com/history/ Together with Jack Pearpoint and Marsha Forest, Snow co-created Person-Centered Planning in Canada. Later this methodology was adopted in the UK leading to “Think Local, Act Personal,” a campaign to transform adult social care in 2011. The aim was “to create inclusive communities everywhere: throughout Ontario and beyond these borders.”

Judith Snow’s work led to the “liberation of her passionate expression—in art and in life. Since then she has experienced the dichotomy of being seen by many as severely disabled and by others as being a fully contributing citizen and inspiring leader.” http://www.lasereagles.net/pages/default.asp

Judith Snow was the keynote speaker at Concordia’s Art Education’s The Art of Inclusion Graduate Symposium in 2015 where she unveiled some of her thinking of we as a culture partner with people with differing abilities. She called it the BMX method of inclusion, based on the metaphor of the (BMX bikes) “bicycle motocross” designed for taking risks on dirt paths of many steep hills and sharp curves with hopes of inspiring more “cross over/partnerships.”

The following is the text from Judith Snow’s powerpoint presentation (February, 2015):

“State B: Includers share presence with those with diverse characteristics but no other changes are anticipated or offered. Toleration is the standard. Includers like their community as it is and expect the included to adapt to “normal” ways and means and to get along the best they can. The included want to get in and out safely and to get done what they came for. The included express gratitude for the opportunity and often work hard to not cause difficulties.

State M: Everyone becomes identified by category. Includers see that the marginalized are “struggling” and “deserving”. Policies are created; programs are resourced. The dominant feelings are pity and concern. The included advocate, demand equality and actively seek out programs. The dominant feelings are victimhood and anger.

State X (Crossover/Partnership): Both includers and included recognize value in the gifts and contributions inherent in all available cultures, characteristics and experiences. The perception fades that there are two sides and a distinct boundary. Shared work is undertaken in order to reap benefit for and with each other.”

For more information:

From Behind the Piano: The Building of Judith Snow’s Unique Circle of Friends by Jack Pearpoint (1994). Toronto: Inclusion Press

Who’s Drawing the Lines? by Judith Snow (2011). Toronto: Inclusion Press



Photo: Judith Snow, Inclusion Consultant with her artwork.

“Inclusion is about the willingness to take a unique difference and develop it as a gift to others. It is not about disability.” - Judith Snow



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